Taken from Facebook

And no, I didn’t write it. Still funny though.

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Charismatics: Only one. Hands are already in the air.
  • Pentecostals: Ten. One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
  • Presbyterians: None. Lights will go on and off at predestined times.
  • Roman Catholic: None. Candles only.
  • Baptists: At least 15. One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.
  • Episcopalians: Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.
  • Unitarians: We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
  • Methodists: Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church wide lighting service is planned for Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
  • Nazarene: Six. One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.
  • Lutherans: None. Lutherans don’t believe in change.
  • Amish: What’s a light bulb?

-PWC

Passenger’s Song

Where are we going so quickly:
We seem to be spinning
Our wheels in the mud
Still trying to move.

And yet we are moving
And sighing to keep
Making sure this car is still running
All signs seem to be stable,
But where are we really?

Personally, I think we got lost
A few days ago. Honestly lost
A century ago, and sort of lost now.
But what do I know, I’m not the driver
Besides: where are we going so quickly?

-PWC

The Great Equalizer: On Being Religious in College

To begin, I need to make it clear that I am not one of those people who thinks that Christianity (or, for that matter, religious views in general) are constantly under attack by modern academic culture as a whole. It is often thought that the majority of college professors are a slew of arrogant men and women who will take any chance they can to attack religious views, but I have not found that to be the case. In fact, I’m actually quite happy as a Christian at the university I am attending because, for the most part, religious people are generally left alone and not made to feel bad for what they believe. And that doesn’t just go for Christianity either: there is actually a prayer room on the campus for the Muslim students as well as groups for both Catholic and Protestant believers. So when all is said and done, the general culture of my university is quite accepting of religions and, to be honest, commendable in the way they treat them.

That being said, there are sometimes instances that do actually cause me to feel a little defensive. The other day in one of my classes, the class got around to talking about the decline of Christian church attendance and the rise of people who are reporting that they don’t believe in anything, and the professor asked the question: “Is this an effect of anything, or are people just getting smarter?” The obvious assumption there: religious people are kind of dumb. Again, at my university, this is a pretty isolated case; however, as someone who prizes both my education and my faith, I was somewhat taken aback by the question. Also, it was one of those moments where someone says something that is kind of insulting to you, but in the moment you are made so uncomfortable that you aren’t really sure how to reply. However, looking back on it now gives me a chance to really think about some of the reasons a professor would make a comment like that and some of the reasons it can be so offensive.

So first the reasons for a comment like that. The first thing to think about is the majority of the population. While it is true that the number of people who report being affiliated with a religion has gone down significantly, the majority religion is still Christianity (Pew Forum). What this means is actually pretty simple: you can always make fun of a majority. In other words, it is completely socially unacceptable to make fun of any kind of minority because they are not the people who are generally in places of power. This is the reason that not many people take so-called “racial oppression” against white people very seriously (Blake). White people have always been the majority in this country, so they also hold most of the power. Thus, making racial comments or slurs about them is seen as more acceptable than if someone made comments like that about a Hispanic person. Racial slurs are, of course, bad no matter who they are directed at, but that does not mean we don’t have this double standard. The same thing goes for religious groups. With Christianity as the majority religion, that instantly makes it alright for Christians to be the religious group that people make fun of.

So that’s an explanation from a social point of view, but it is also important to find real statistics. As said earlier, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that the number of people who are reporting being unaffiliated with a religion (or at least reporting “nothing in particular” as their religious views) has increased fairly significantly (6). But it is also important to compare that with education. The common and widely accepted view is that religious people are less likely to be highly educated and that more educated people are more likely to reject religion. Thus, the two work in something of an inverse relationship. Of course, this still requires some proof. A poll taken in 2003 shows that out of people who have a postgraduate degree, around 88% believe in some kind of supreme spiritual being. Whether or not that is the God of the Christian faith is a different question, but they do believe in some kind of supernatural being. On the opposite end of the spectrum, out of people with a high school degree or less, 97% are likely to believe in a spiritual being Also, 53% of people with a postgraduate degree reported that religion was very important to their lives whereas 65% of people with a high school diploma or less said that it was important (Gallup). So case closed, end of story, religious people are stupid. Right?

Well, no. As usual when talking about groups of people, things are much more complex. The poll also looked at membership of a church and church attendance. The postgraduate degree holders were more likely to be a part of a church than people with a highs school diploma (70% compared to 64%) and both groups were just as likely as each other to have been in a church service in the last seven days since the poll was taken. But that’s not everything either. The poll also asked about people’s trust in their clergy and in organized religion in general. Of the high school or less group, 52% had a great deal of trust in organized religion, but only 43% of those people had a high degree of trust in the clergy. In the opposite group, 34% of the people with a postgraduate degree had a lot of trust in organized religion, but 63% of these people had a high degree of trust in their clergy (Gallup).

So what does all of this mean? The writer for the Gallup poll summed it all up very nicely:

“To some degree, those with a lower level of education are more likely to ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to religion — that is, they’re more likely to say they believe in God, place religion prominently in their lives, and recognize religion’s importance in the world. But those with a higher level of education are as likely as those with less education to ‘walk the walk’ — by belonging to a congregation and attending services regularly” (Winseman).

The important part with any religion is not that people talk about it, but that people live what they are talking about. According to the poll, people who are highly educated are actually just as likely to be religious as their less educated counterparts.

So if it’s the case that actual statistics show the professor to be somewhat misled, the question of why this was offensive still remains. Since being offended is a subjective feeling anyway, this cannot be analyzed through statistics. I think the reason it is so offensive is that if people genuinely believe in their religion, then it necessarily becomes part of their identity: a part of who they are at the very center of their being. So when a person makes a comment against that belief, it gets interpreted as an attack on the actual identity of the person. In other words, to say something with the assumption that religious people aren’t very intelligent insults a person at the most basic level of who they are. If actual tolerance of everyone, by everyone, for everyone is something we are striving for as a society, then attacking anyone with any creed at the level of their identity– for who they are– should not be acceptable.

Finally, a small anecdote: last Sunday while I was sitting in my pew in church thinking about the people sitting around me and about the comment the professor made, an interesting thought came to me. My church, the group of people I see every weekend, is a small cross section of a much larger society: we have farmers and scientists; PhD’s and people who barely graduated high school; and we have people from a few different countries and varying walks of life. And yet all of them have come together to peacefully worship and think about their faith. So as far as religion, it isn’t about education. The Christian faith is summed up in two phrases: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37, 39). That’s what matters: love, acceptance, and faith. I have found these things to be real in churches, and I have only seen the slimmest shadow of them elsewhere. So are faithful people less intelligent? It doesn’t matter. The statistics say the whole question is more complex than a yes or no answer, and the Christian faith says that no matter who we are or what our education is or what our background is, we are all “one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). So it isn’t that stupid people are religious and that smart people aren’t, and it isn’t that there is really a difference in the faith of highly educated people and people with a lower level of education. Instead, we all meet together regardless of who we are, and we set aside our differences to worship together. While intelligence and education are important to me, what also matters to me is that the Christian faith is the great equalizer of everyone who comes to worship.

-PWC

Citations

Blake, John. “Are Whites Racially Oppressed?” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “Summary of Key Findings.” Pewforum.org. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Winseman, Albert. “Does More Educated Really = Less Religious?” Gallup.com. Gallup, 4 Feb. 2003. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

 

Spells, Spelling, and the Old Power of Language: A Few Thoughts

In the event that anyone is curious, there is no etymological connection between spells (as in magic) and spelling (as in writing a word letter by letter). The noun “spell” comes from the Old English word spel which was a charm or incantation used in druidic practices. The verb “spell” on the other hand comes from the Old French word espeler or, possibly an older version, espeldre. This makes some sense considering the fact that when England was taken over by the Normans in the 11th century, English only had a very rudimentary writing system which mostly consisted of runes the their spiritual leaders used as (you guessed it) magical symbols. It might not be immediately apparent, but it makes sense that if the speakers of Old English did not have a writing system, there would be no real reason to have a word for spelling. The end result is that “spell (n)” and “spell (v)” developed along different pathways and only recently merged into the same spelling and sounds. Thus, the two words have no etymological connection.

All that being said, there does seem to be something of a psychological connection that we have built between language and some kind of power. For an everyday example, we tend to recognize it almost immediately when a politician is using language to be somewhat manipulative. The most recent example in my mind is Governor Chris Christie’s response to the recent bridge scandal. One of his personal comments was “Mistakes were made.” It’s very easy to see that the focus of a comment like this is the mistake, not who made the mistake or what reasons were behind the mistake. The use of the agentless passive, then, tipped a lot of people off to the fact that the language that Christie was using was somehow manipulative. This is not the only example either. Stories as old as the ones in the bible have similar examples: take Daniel chapter 5. In this story, King Belshazzar is giving a huge banquet for some of his wealthiest friends and allies. Having consumed more than his fair share of wine, the king commands that more wine be brought this time in the golden vessels that were used for worship in the Israelite temple. As soon as he began to drink from these, a disembodied hand wrote four unintelligible words on the wall of the king’s palace. The king’s first response: call all his wise men and magicians to try to decipher the writing. Even more recently, we have examples of entirely intriguing untranslated languages like Linear A that we just can’t quite understand. Or, when we see something like The Voynich Manuscript, an untranslatable book that was written in the early 15th or 16th century, our first thoughts are not “this guy must have been seriously tripping;” instead, we think “what could this mean?” Some even go so far as to ascribe the writing to things like angels, demons, aliens, ancient magic, or all kinds of other decidedly “out there” ideas.

So why do we have this connection? Or, what makes us realize that language is something that can be used for our own ends be they good or bad? I think that it goes back to how we actually view language itself. Of course, I can’t speak for every population of speakers; however, here in America (and probably quite a few other English speaking countries), we see language as a tool that we use for communication, social interaction, conflict, planning, and, possibly above all else, power. Like any tool, those who can use language the best are the ones that have the ability to use it for their own ends. In a society that attempts to be as egalitarian and democratic as possible (whether or not that is the case is a matter that is entirely beyond the scope of this blog), we become uncomfortable when we feel that someone has an upper hand on us. Knowing how to use language and how to manipulate it to manipulate people is treated (as it probably should be) as inherently diabolical. Because of this, we associate it with something else we find just as evil: magic and the unknown. Now, I don’t believe in the existence of magic or human beings’ ability to manipulate any kind of higher power to their own ends; however, this is the view that people take with language. No one is comfortable with the thought of someone using a supernatural power to manipulate people, and that same uncomfortable feeling happens when we realize that people are using an entirely natural ability (like language) for manipulation.

This, of course, brings us to an interesting question: does language actually have power? In so far as we can actually recognize when people are using language for their own ends, the inevitable answer is yes, yes it does. Or, at least, it can if used in certain ways. If that is the case, then maybe it should change the way we think about the things we hear. We’re constantly surrounded by language in various forms: news stories, political sound bites, class lectures, talks with friends, etc. We need to realize that there are times when language will be used in some of these things in an attempt to exert some type of power or control over us. Thus, I think we should all become linguistic versions of Harry Potter or Gandalf the White, and we should be able to learn not only to recognize when the power of language is being used for something bad, but we should also use our own power of language for good.

-PWC

NOTE: This is a re-post from my linguistics blog. If you want to read more about things like this, find my other blog at http://litandlinguistics.blogspot.com/

Pete’s Rants: Oregon is Being Buried!

Title is slightly hyperbolic. However, we did just have about a foot of snow where I live which is a lot more than Oregon usually gets. Just how much more than usual, you may ask? Well, about a foot of snow is pretty much eleven inches more than we usually have here. Needless to say, the last few days have kind of sucked. Having time off of school is kind of nice, but I’m getting pretty close to cabin fever. Now I recognize that whining about it never got anybody anywhere, but here’s a list of things that I hate about the snow:

  1. Cold, cold, cold, cold, COLD!
  2. Can’t get to the grocery store for food.
  3. Had to dig my way out of my apartment.
  4. Cold, cold, cold, cold, COLD!
  5.  Now that it’s stopped snowing it’s pretty much been a 12 inch sheet of ice.
  6. My car is buried.
  7. I’ve been out of coffee for the last few days.
  8. Cold.
  9. This picture:
Nope, it's not a cake: that's a foot of snow piled on a table.

Nope, it’s not a cake: that’s a foot of snow piled on a table.

And did I mention that it’s been cold?

-PWC

Obvious Sign is Obvious

You can find a lot of weird crap in public bathrooms (heh). Usually, this kind of thing comes from people with more markers than sense just looking for a way to express themselves. Every once in a while, however, you come across a real gem: something that makes you think; makes you laugh; or leaves you wondering what someone was thinking. Today’s example of this came to me in the form of this sign:

Harvested Rainwater Toilet: ain't nobody gonna drink that

Harvested Rainwater Toilet. Of course I’m not going to drink this water. Why they felt the need to make a sign telling me not to is completely beyond me.

-PWC